Dolphins RB Duke Johnson on big game against Jets: 'This reminded me of college'

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MIAMI GARDENS — Long before Duke Johnson ever scored a touchdown or heard the "DUUUUUKE" chant at Hard Rock Stadium, all he had to do is look up to envision himself starring inside that venue.

Johnson grew up practically in the shadow of Hard Rock Stadium, his home minutes away, and his high school — Miami-Norland — even closer. At the time, the closest he got to the Dolphins was following the team, and idolizing players such as Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Ricky Williams.

Sunday, there he was, not just playing on that same field for the professional team he grew up rooting for, but starring and sparking his hometown team to a victory.

"It means a lot to do it in an area I grew up, the college field I played on," Johnson said. "The most important thing is I did it and it led to a win."

Johnson returned to Hard Rock Stadium as a member of the home team, this time for the Dolphins. And the script could not have been written any better. Making his first start for Miami, Johnson rushed for a team-high (and Dolphins season high) 107 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns in a grinding 31-24 victory over the New York Jets.

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Miami scratched its way back to .500 after falling behind by 10 points early and leaning on a rejuvenated running game to overcome two interceptions by Tua Tagovailoa.

"It's very cool." Tagovailoa said. "I think I heard the crowd say Duke, with a lot of 'DUUUUUKE.' I think he enjoyed it."

You think? Johnson has not had this much fun in the city in which he was raised since wearing a Miami Hurricanes uniform. He left UM in 2014 as the program's all-time leading rusher and then spent his first four years with the Browns, who took him in the third round of the 2015 draft, before being traded to Houston in 2019.

Dolphins running back Duke Johnson, who rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns  waves to the fans at Hard Rock Stadium as he left the field Sunday after Miami's win over the New York Jets.
Dolphins running back Duke Johnson, who rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns waves to the fans at Hard Rock Stadium as he left the field Sunday after Miami's win over the New York Jets.

Johnson was cut by the Texans in February. The Dolphins signed him to the practice squad in late October and elevated him to the active roster about a month later.

"It was awesome to watch," Dolphins receiver Isaiah Ford said. "I remember him vividly when I was at Virginia Tech. I've seen that a few times. It was good to be his teammate this time."

Johnson was fourth on the Dolphins depth chart a little more than a week ago. Then Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed were placed on the NFL's COVID-19 list last weekend (the Dolphins were off) before being cleared Thursday to return to practice. Gaskin had 10 carries for 54 yards. Ahmed did not play.

But even though both were active, it was Johnson who started and saw the bulk of the action.

Johnson spearheaded a rushing attack that ran for a season high 183 yards, 50 more than its previous best at Las Vegas on Sept. 26. This was against a Jets rush defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the league. His total yards easily eclipsed the team's previous best of 89 by Gaskin against the Jets a month ago.

"This reminded me of college," he said. "Feels like my college games again. Definitely enjoyed it."

Johnson had played in one other game for the Dolphins, carrying four times for 18 yards at the Jets. With COVID surging once again and hitting the Dolphins running back room pretty hard, he made sure he was ready.

"I really prepare every week as if I'm going to be the guy regardless if I'm the guy or not," he said." It was just sticking with my routine of every week."

Johnson's first Dolphins touchdown came in the second quarter with Miami trailing 10-0. He then scored on a 6-yard run up the middle in which he kept churning his legs, even while running backwards, early in the second half to tie the score.

"He played well," Miami coach Brian Flores said. "He definitely gave us a spark, ran it well, ran hard, picked up first downs, picked up tough yardage when they knew we were going to run it."

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami native Duke Johnson sparks Miami Dolphins over NY Jets

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